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UK makes small step into white space, ahead of giant leap next year

Communications regulator Ofcom has put out a call for participants for a pilot of white space devices, expected to start this autumn.
Written by Jo Best, Contributor on

The UK could start making use of its 'white space' spectrum from next year, after communications regulator Ofcom announced plans for a white space devices pilot.

On Friday, it put a call out for companies interested in taking part in a trial of using white space spectrum, to start from autumn this year.

White space is the sections of unoccupied spectrum left between bands already in use, typically 'gaps' of spectrum between the tranches used for TV broadcasts. The characteristics of this unlicensed spectrum mean it's suitable both for delivering broadband to rural communities, as well as for low-data applications such as machine to machine (M2M) communications.

Once Ofcom's white space guinea pigs have been chosen, the regulator will decide where in the UK to run the pilot, which is to use the white space between digital terrestrial TV signals.

"The pilot will test the interoperation of white spaces devices, white space databases and the processes to mitigate against causing any undue interference to current spectrum users," Ofcom said.

The databases that Ofcom mentions here are those that determine which bits of spectrum are unused in which locations, allowing devices to choose which white space to use depending on where they're being used – Google already has one up and running for the US, for example.

"Location-aware wireless devices, assisted by databases which provide information on white space availability taking into account existing licensed use, offer the promise of opportunistic access to under-utilised frequency bands around the United Kingdom for innovative and useful services. We believe that such database-assisted operation can also be a key enabling technology for the efficient and dynamic sharing of spectrum in a variety of frequency bands," Ofcom said in a consultation on white space last year.

With the pilot complete, services using white spaces could be up and running from 2014, according to the regulator.

Ofcom's pilot wouldn't be the first time white space has been put through its paces in the UK: trials have already been run in Cornwall and Scotland last year focusing on rural broadband, while Microsoft and BT experimented with white space in Cambridge for M2M.

Meanwhile, California recently got its first white space broadband service, while Microsoft is testing its use in Kenya and Google is doing similarly in South Africa.

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